During this and the following days the unloading of the Dolphin was rapidly accomplished; the steam cranes lifted out the European cargo to make room for the native goods. The people of Charleston, who were present at this interesting work, helped the sailors, whom they held in great respect, but the Captain did not leave the brave fellows much time for receiving compliments; he was constantly behind them, and urged them on with a feverish activity, the reason of which the sailors could not suspect.
Three days later, on the 18th of January, the first bales of cotton began to be packed in the hold: although James Playfair troubled himself no more about it, the firm of Playfair and Co. were making an excellent bargain, having obtained the cotton which encumbered the Charleston wharves at very far less than its value.
In the meantime no news had been heard of Crockston. Jenny, without saying anything about it, was a prey to incessant fears; her pale face spoke for her, and James Playfair endeavoured his utmost to ease her mind.
“I have all confidence in Crockston,” said he; “he is a devoted servant, as you must know better than I do, Miss Jenny. You must make yourself quite at ease; believe me, in three days you will be folded in your father’s arms.”
“Ah! Mr. James,” cried the young girl, “how can I ever repay you for such devotion? How shall we ever be able to thank you?”
“I will tell you when we are in English seas,” replied the young Captain.
Jenny raised her tearful face to him for a moment, then her eyelids drooped, and she went back to her cabin.
James Playfair hoped that the young girl would know nothing of her father’s terrible situation until he was in safety, but she was apprised of the truth by the involuntary indiscretion of a sailor.
The reply from the Richmond cabinet had arrived by a courier who had been able to pass the line of outposts; the reply contained Jonathan Halliburtt’s death-warrant. The news of the approaching execution was not long in spreading through the town, and it was brought on board by one of the sailors of the Dolphin; the man told the Captain, without thinking that Miss Halliburtt was within hearing; the young girl uttered a piercing cry, and fell unconscious on the deck. James Playfair carried her to her cabin, but the most assiduous care was necessary to restore her to life.
When she opened her eyes again, she saw the young Captain, who, with a finger on his lips, enjoined absolute silence. With difficulty she repressed the outburst of her grief, and James Playfair, leaning towards her, said gently:
“Jenny, in two hours your father will be in safety near you, or I shall have perished in endeavouring to save him!”
Then he left the cabin, saying to himself, “And now he must be carried off at any price, since I must pay for his liberty with my own life and those of my crew.”
The hour for action had arrived, the loading of the cotton cargo had been finished since morning; in two hours the ship would be ready to start.
James Playfair had left the North Commercial Wharf and gone into the roadstead, so that he was ready to make use of the tide, which would be high at nine o’clock in the evening.
It was seven o’clock when James left the young girl, and began to make preparations for departure. Until the present time the secret had been strictly kept between himself, Crockston, and Jenny; but now he thought it wise to inform Mr. Mathew of the situation of affairs, and he did so immediately.
“Very well, sir,” replied Mr. Mathew, without making the least remark, “and nine o’clock is the time?”
“Nine o’clock, and have the fires lit immediately, and the steam got up.”
“It shall be done, Captain.”
“The Dolphin may remain at anchor; we will cut our moorings and sheer off, without losing a moment.”
“Have a lantern placed at the mainmast-head; the night is dark, and will be foggy; we must not risk losing our way in returning. You had better have the bell for starting rung at nine o’clock.”
“Your orders shall be punctually attended to, Captain.”
“And now, Mr.